In San Francisco, a city with a severe shortage of affordable housing, 1,100 new units, 50 percent of which will be permanently affordable, should sound like a dream come true.
Instead, it’s become a nightmarish debate about 500 parking spots after a group of neighbors, called Save CCSF, launched a ballot measure to block affordable housing at the Balboa Reservoir, a 17-acre site next to City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus. The reservoir, which has never served its original purpose, has instead been used as a massive parking lot for decades, on loan to CCSF by the Public Utilities Commission even though it sits near Balboa Park BART Station and several high-frequency bus lines.
In 2017, The City selected a group of San Francisco-based housing developers to reimagine the Balboa Reservoir site. The team consists of two of the biggest nonprofit affordable housing developers in San Francisco: Mission Housing Development Corporation and BRIDGE Housing.
For decades, both have built and managed low- and middle-income units that serve thousands of San Franciscans. Their track records have not shielded either from housing detractors though.
The reservoir project will reduce parking, a move that Save CCSF claims, without any academic study or otherwise, would add traffic to the area and deter enrollment. They also want a new Performing Arts Education Center on an adjacent lot opened before any housing moves forward. This is another tactic to ensure the reservoir remains a parking lot forever.
The team has repeatedly offered to work with City College and its advocates in all facets of the reservoir project. It is even exploring options to deliver additional affordable faculty and student housing. But instead of engaging in good faith, opponents would rather bully nonprofit developers and defeat upwards of 600 affordable housing units to save 500 parking spots.
Repurposing the parking lot into housing, amid the worst housing crisis San Francisco has ever experienced, should be a no brainer: Homes for people are more important than homes for cars.
When San Franciscans went to the polls in 2016, we overwhelmingly passed Proposition C to increase The City’s mandatory affordable housing requirements for new projects. The goal of Prop. C was to establish high set-asides of affordable units in projects like the Balboa Reservoir.
The goal was not more parking spaces, and certainly not to pit education against housing on the ballot two years later. No one likes to lose parking, but losing long time low- and middle-income San Franciscans because The City has nowhere to house them is much worse.
Nonprofit affordable housing developers are not the enemy. They are trying to reverse an impossible housing shortage and often go up against insatiable opponents. We should rally behind them, not behind our cars.
Nicole Lindler is a housing warrior and UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy graduate student. Follow her on Twitter @nicolelindler.